Opinion: Good governance as antidote to illegal migration

By Jide Ojo

 “Migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity. Selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger. The migrants – many from Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia – are captured as they head north towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast, where some try to catch boats for Italy”

– Othman Belbeisi, Head of the IOM’s Libya mission, addressing journalists in Geneva in April 2017.

There you have it. Modern day slavery thrives in Libya after the abolition of slave trade over a century ago. Story has it that West African migrants interviewed by the International Organisation for Migration have recounted being bought and sold in garages and car parks in the southern city of Sabha, one of Libya’s main migrant smuggling hubs. Migrants are reportedly traded for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months.  There is a prayer we say in Yorubaland that as we go about looking for what to eat, may we not encounter what will eat us. The issue of illegal migration has assumed a worrisome dimension that all people of goodwill, including the Nigerian government must find decisive solutions to it.

True, migration is a fundamental right of every human.  There is a freedom of movement which is enshrined by the Nigerian constitution as well as other international treaties, protocols and covenants. However, this right to free movement is not absolute. Everyone emigrating from one country to another is expected to do so with valid documents. Every traveller visiting another country is supposed to have a valid entry visa. Even in West Africa where there is ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons and goods, one is expected to possess a genuine ECOWAS passport and is expected to be stamped in by immigration officials at the border.

It will seem that with the harsh economic situation in the country, kick-started by austerity measures of 1980 under the administration of former President Shehu Shagari and reaching a zenith under President Muhammadu Buhari when the country moved into economic recession, more Nigerians have come to believe that overseas is where their salvation lie. They therefore emigrate in droves in search of greener pastures.  Today, our dear country is plagued with the ugly phenomenon called brain drain. Under this, Nigeria has lost hundreds of thousands of highly skilled manpower, world class professionals in various fields of human endeavours such as medicine, engineering, law, sports, and entertainment.

It is said that medical doctors of Nigerian descent that migrated to the United States of America to practise stands at about 25,000. Many more are in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, Asia, Carribeans and Australia. Many of our sportsmen and women have changed nationality and are today representing other countries and winning laurels for their adopted countries at international sport meets. I must hasten to state that not all those who are involved in brain drain are illegal migrants. There are those who traveled initially with valid travel documents but overstayed and thereafter seek asylum or wangle their ways to seek permanent residency of their new country of abode.

Of greater concern to me are those Nigerians who from the commencement of their journey to another country do not have any valid travel document. Many of them have in their possession forged passport and visa and are hoping that they will not be detected by eagle-eye immigration officials. While it is true that many illegal migrants are victims of human trafficking, there are also significant number of those who voluntarily signed on to be ‘helped’ to foreign countries. They even pay whatever is demanded of them for that trip.

Saturday PUNCH of May 20, 2017 had this screaming headline: “Illegal migration: 10,000 Nigerians die in Mediterranean Sea, deserts – NIS”.  Wow! Could this be true? Reading the story, I learnt that the information was credited to the Nigerian Immigration Service Assistant Comptroller-General in charge of training, manpower and development, Mr. Maroof Giwa. He said no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians had died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts. Of that number, 4,900 died in the Mediterranean Sea while the rest died while going through the deserts in their bid to cross to Europe. Giwa spoke in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital on May 19 on the sidelines of a training on ‘Trafficking in persons/smuggling of migrants at various borders,’ organised by the NIS.

Imagine, this country has lost that huge number of persons in about five months of this year alone. Will the number not triple by year end? Do we even know how many are in slave camps in Libya and other countries? Shocking! Heartrending!

The Deputy Head of the EU delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young, was reported to have expressed concern on the increase in the number of migrants travelling to Europe illegally. He said the number increased from 280,000 in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015. “In 2014, the number of people travelling illegally into Europe was 280,000 people; in 2015, it rose to 1.8 million. Within this number, people coming from Nigeria (to Europe) in 2012 were 800; in 2013, the number was 2,900; in 2014, the number was 8,700; in 2015, the number was 23,000 and between January and September 2016, the number was 22, 500,” he had said.

What is to be done? Awareness creation through comprehensive and sustained civic education is imperative. Migrants should know that the streets of Europe and America where they are fleeing to is not paved with gold. There is not one country that has not been hit by economic meltdown. That is why protectionism has become the new world order. The recurring xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the Donald Trump’s America First policy, the Britain’s exit out of the European Union are all part of the protectionist agenda of these countries. There aren’t just enough jobs and welfare services to go round everybody hence most countries are introducing stringent immigration policy.

What is happening is a challenge to Nigerian government. It needs to make this country livable for its citizens. Security and welfare of citizens are the primary purpose of governance, so says the Nigerian Constitution. The untold hardship inflicted on us by high cost of living, inclement business environment, corruption of gargantuan dimension, infrastructural deficit, low unemployment opportunities and grinding poverty are some of the factors driving my compatriots into becoming illegal migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The only way the sad narratives will change is when there is good governance with concomitant high standard of living.Punch

Follow me on twitter @jideojong

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